WHATS NEW? - OCTOBER 2013

Drug-driving proposals unveiled by government

Long-term cannabis use may blunt the brain's motivation system

World’s first drugs advice Iphone app for parents

Two new 'legal highs' to be banned for 12 months

Drink and drug use rises among middle-aged men and women in Wales

Rise in Ritalin Use Sparks 'Smart Drug' Fears

Uruguay MPs back cannabis legalisation bill

Increased concern over PMA ‘ecstasy’ related deaths

Minimum alcohol pricing plan shelved

Market stall holder convicted of selling ‘legal weed’



Drug-driving proposals unveiled by government


Plans to make it easier to prosecute people who drive under the influence of illegal drugs in England and Wales have been unveiled by the government.

The proposals would introduce a new offence of driving with a drug in the body, above a certain limit. Ministers said the legislation would remove the difficulty of proving a driver was impaired by drugs.

The plans also propose limits for some prescribed drugs such as diazepam. The government said it was proposing a "zero-tolerance" approach to drug drivers.

It proposes including seven drugs - cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine,  methamphetamine, LSD and heroin under the "tough approach", for which allowable limits would be set very low. And it is proposing higher limits for eight other controlled drugs which have medical uses.

These are clonazepam, diazepam, flunitrazepam, lorazepam, methadone, morphine, oxazepam and temazepam.

Police would be able to carry out up to three preliminary saliva tests and, if positive, require a blood sample to be taken.

Ministers said the new offence would reduce wasted time, expense and effort for the police and courts when prosecutions failed.

Roads minister Stephen Hammond said: "Drug-driving is a menace which devastates families and ruins lives. That is why we are proposing to take a zero-tolerance approach with those who drive under the influence of illegal drugs and sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

"We have also put forward our proposals for dealing with drivers who use specific prescribed drugs.We know that the vast majority of people who use these drugs are doing so responsibly and safely and that is why our approach does not unduly penalise drivers who have taken properly prescribed medicines.

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Long-term cannabis use may blunt the brain's motivation system


Long-term cannabis users tend to produce less dopamine, a chemical in the brain linked to motivation, a study has found.

Researchers found that dopamine levels in a part of the brain called the striatum were lower in people who smoke more cannabis and those who began taking the drug at a younger age.

They suggest this finding could explain why some cannabis users appear to lack motivation to work or pursue their normal interests. The study, by scientists at Imperial College London, and Kings College London, was  published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The researchers used PET brain imaging to look at dopamine production in the striatum of 19 regular cannabis users and 19 non-users of matching age and sex.

The cannabis users in the study had all experienced psychotic-like symptoms while smoking the drug, such as experiencing strange sensations or having bizarre thoughts like feeling as though they are being threatened by an unknown force. The researchers expected that dopamine production might be higher in this group, since increased dopamine production has been linked with psychosis. Instead, they found the opposite effect.

The cannabis users in the study had their first experience with the drug between the ages of 12 and 18. There was a trend for lower dopamine levels in those who started earlier, and also in those who smoke more cannabis. The researchers say these findings suggest that cannabis use may be the cause of the difference in dopamine levels.

The lowest dopamine levels were seen in users who meet diagnostic criteria for cannabis abuse or dependence, raising the possibility that this measure could provide a marker of addiction severity.

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World’s first drugs advice Iphone app for parents


For the first time parents can now access essential information and advice about drug issues via a new  iPhone and iPad app.

‘Know Drugs – the Parents Guide’ is a unique blend of detailed information about illegal drugs and ‘legal highs’ with video based guidance for parents on dealing with drugs issues.

The app (available from www.knowdrugs.org) includes a full guide to the effects of different drugs, slang terms and the key signs for parents to look out for with their teenagers. There are also a range of videos where ex-users give their own first hand experiences of using various substances including cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy.

The video question and answer section is presented by actress and BBC television presenter Nicola Reynolds. The app also features an important step by step video guide for parents on what to do if their son or daughter has collapsed after taking drugs. 

The creator of the Know Drugs app Liam Watson said “For many parents the world of drugs can appear frightening and confusing. With new drugs and ‘legal highs’ appearing on the market every week it’s no surprise that parents often feel that their kids know more about drugs than they do. We have strived to create an educational tool that informs parents about drugs issues in a responsible and balanced manner.”

He added “We know from the feedback we have received already that parents will find the Know Drugs iPhone app very useful as a means of educating both themselves and their teenagers about drugs issues.”

Please visit www.knowdrugs.org for further information and links to download or follow this link to be taken directly to the Apple store download page https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/knowdrugs-the-parents-guide/id645942483?mt=8

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Two new 'legal highs' to be banned for 12 months


Two "legal high" chemical compounds marketed as Benzo Fury and NBOMe are to be temporarily banned for up to 12 months, Home Office ministers have announced.

The two new psychoactive drugs are to be made illegal while the government's advisory council on the misuse of drugs assesses whether the ban should be made permanent.

The two substances are among 73 new psychoactive synthetic drugs that appeared on the market last year which are sold online and imitate the effects of more traditional illegal drugs.

In this case Benzo Fury mimics the effects of stimulant amphetamines such as speed while also having some ecstasy-like effects including experiencing sounds and colours more intensely. NBOMe (sometimes referred to a ‘smiles’) is a psychedelic that imitates the effects of 1960s-style LSD.

The Home Office temporary class drug order has the effect of making it illegal to manufacture, import or supply the substances but not to possess them. Police and customs however do have a power to seize and confiscate temporary class drugs.

Prof Les Iversen, the home secretary's chief adviser on illicit drugs, publicly warned of the dangers of NBOMe last month, saying the novel LSD-style psychedelic sold as a "research chemical" was many more times powerful than its 1960s equivalent.

The chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said it was impossible to comprehend the microgram dosages involved because it was sold as a diluted solution dissolved on a piece of blotting paper.

European drug experts also confirm that this new psychoactive is far more potent than other similar phenethylamines that have emerged on the new drugs market. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Emcdda) issued a public health warning about NBOMe substances in March after the first reports of non-fatal intoxications by doctors within Europe were made through its early warning system. Media reports from Australia and the US have linked it to deaths.

The second psychoactive substance to be affected is an amphetamine-style stimulant which has been found in a "legal high" branded as Benzo Fury, which can be bought from online shops for £10 each or £25 for three. They are sold as "research chemical pellets" and marked as not for human consumption. The brand name derives from the benzofuran ring in the substance's chemical structure.

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Drink and drug use rises among middle-aged men and women in Wales


Dozens of new synthetic drugs, often marketed as "legal highs" on the internet and made in Asia, emerged last year replacing traditional, plant-based drugs in Britain and Europe, according to official figures.

Middle-aged men and women in Wales are increasingly turning to drink and drugs, according to statistics released by the Welsh Government. Quarterly figures examining substance misuse released over the past five years have shown that women in their 50s have seen the biggest rise in referrals for alcohol problems across Wales.

Between 2008 and 2009, 784 women in Wales aged between 50 and 59 were referred to treatment services for alcohol addiction, but by 2012/13, this increased by 36.2% to 1,068. The figures reveal that referrals have also risen for men in the same age group, with 1,512 referred in 2008/9 and 1,642 referred in 2012/13 - an increase of 8.6%.

Andrew Misell, director of Alcohol Concern Cymru, said: "A lot of media attention has focused on young people out drinking in town centres, but there is an ever-increasing trend for drinking alcohol at home, and a lot of that is people who do not fit the stereotype of young binge drinkers.”

Mr Misell explained there were a number of factors causing people over the age 50 to drink to excess.

He said: "There are a few factors at play. There may be some people who started drinking heavily in their youth and simply carried on. Plus, it is increasingly acceptable for people to use alcohol to relax at home at the end of a working day. For many middle-aged professionals wine o’clock is the start of ‘me’ time."

He added: "As we look at the over-60s, there are also events like retirement, loss of friends and sometimes declining health that can all lead us to turn to the bottle for support."

According to the figures, referrals for men in their 60s have risen by 10.4% in the past five years. Women in their 60s saw rises in referrals in recent years, but cases in 2012/13 were lower than in the previous 12 months.

There has been a smaller rising trend for people in their 40s, with alcohol referrals up 2.4% on five years ago.

Mr Misell said: "Above all, we need to acknowledge that alcohol can become a problem for anyone at any age, and get rid once and for all of the stigma around admitting a drink problem."

In addition to referrals for alcohol abuse, substance misuse referrals have also risen for people in their 50s. In 2008/9, 160 men in this age group were offered help for substance misuse issues and this increased by 37.5% to 220 in 2012/13, with rises for women in the same age group up 19.4%.

There have also been rises for people in their 40s, up 16.4% on five years ago, and for teenagers, up 2% in the same period.

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Rise in Ritalin Use Sparks 'Smart Drug' Fears


Children taking Ritalin in a bid to boost their grades may have sparked the soaring numbers of ADHD drugs being prescribed in Britain, a new report has warned.

The number of drugs being prescribed to ADHD sufferers has increased by 56% in just six years, new figures by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have shown.

The escalating rise in prescriptions has been linked to a new "smart-drug" trend - where  students take medication in an effort to fight fatigue and help them concentrate, the report said. But the abuse of the potent medication may have significant "long-term risks," it warned.

The CQC report said it is crucial health workers "carefully monitor" the drugs because they have a potential for "diversion or misuse". However, in 2012 GPs handed out 657,000 methylphenidate prescriptions - up from the 420,000 given out in 2007.

The steady rise has since continued year on year – up 11% between 2011 and 2012.

Previous research has indicated that as many as one in 10 UK students could be taking the "cognitive enhancing" drugs. Although it is not completely clear how it works, the psychostimulant is thought to stimulate a part of the brain that changes mental and behavioural reactions.

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Uruguay MPs back cannabis legalisation bill


Members of Uruguay's House of Representatives have passed a bill to legalise cannabis.

Uruguay will become the first country to regulate the production, distribution and sale of cannabis.

The measure is backed by the government of President Jose Mujica, who says it will remove profits from drug dealers and divert users from ‘harder’ drugs. Under the bill, only the government would be allowed to sell cannabis.

The state would assume "the control and regulation of the importation, exportation, plantation, cultivation, the harvest, the production, the acquisition,  the commercialisation and the distribution of cannabis and its by-products".

Buyers would have to be registered on a database and be over the age of 18. They would be able to buy up to 40g (1.4oz) per month in specially licensed pharmacies or grow up to six plants at home. Foreigners would be excluded from the measure.

The supporters of the measure argued that the fight against drugs and drug trafficking had failed, and the country needed "new alternatives".

"The regulation is not to promote consumption; consumption already exists," said Sebastian Sabini of the governing centre-left Broad Front coalition.

Cannabis use has reportedly doubled in Uruguay over the past year. An estimated 22 tonnes of cannabis are being sold in the country annually, according to Uruguay's National Drugs Committee.

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Increased concern over PMA ‘ecstasy’ related deaths


The government agency responsible for drug prevention has said it is concerned with an apparent recent rise in the number of ecstasy-related deaths.

It is feared some tablets currently being sold as ecstasy actually contain the Class A drug PMA.( para-Methoxyamphetamine)

Hospitals have been sent alerts about the effects of the drug, which can be stronger than MDMA (ecstasy).

In 2012, there were at least 10 UK fatalities where PMA contributed towards or caused the death. The figures show in 2011, there were at least four deaths involving the drug, whilst in 2010, there were none.

Rosanna O'Connor, director of alcohol and drugs for Public Health England, said she'd been alerted to PMA in ecstasy tablets in recent months. "The actual make-up of what people think they're buying, when they're buying ecstasy tablets, changes all the time and this particular phenomena around PMA is a very recent one. It looks like a very concerning rise in the number of deaths from these types of drugs."

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones Consultant psychiatrist at the Club Drug Clinic in London told the BBC

"We've seen a number of people using PMA. One of the problems with PMA is the time it takes for the effect to come on is a bit longer than MDMA," he said. "People will take a pill thinking it's MDMA and then go, well it's not worked, so they'll take another one and what they're actually doing is double dosing. What we understand is that the number of deaths from PMA appear to be higher than MDMA, despite many more taking MDMA. The suggestion is that PMA is more dangerous."

The street names for PMA can often be the same as those for MDMA, with monikers such as green rolex, Dr Death or pink ecstasy.

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Minimum alcohol pricing plan shelved


The government has been widely criticised for shelving plans to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in England and Wales.

Minister Jeremy Browne said the policy would remain "under consideration".

A ban on multi-buy promotions has been rejected but sales will not be allowed below the cost of alcohol duty and VAT.

Labour and alcohol campaign groups said the government had done a U-turn on a flagship policy that both the PM and home secreta ry had backed.

Jeremy Browne said problem drinking turned towns and cities into effective "no-go areas" for many people, was seen as instrumental in many violent attacks and cost the taxpayer £21bn a year in crime and health issues. But he said there was not enough "concrete evidence" minimum pricing could reduce the harmful effects of problem drinking without hurting those who drank responsibly.

"We are not in the business of making laws that do not work. We consulted on it and we heard what people say," he said, pointing out that 34% of those who responded backed a 45p minimum unit price but 56% had disagreed.

Multi-buy promotions in shops, such as two-for-one deals, will also not be banned as, Mr Browne said, there was not enough evidence it would have a big impact on how much people were drinking "at a time when responsible families are trying hard to balance their household budgets".

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Market stall holder convicted of selling ‘legal weed’


The proprietor of a Leeds market stall has been convicted over the sale of so-called ‘legal highs’ in the first case of its kind in the country.

Hamayun Parwani, aged 37, of Old Farm Cross, Leeds, was found guilty of selling an intoxicating substance to a person under the age of 18 years under Section 1 of the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 following a trial at Leeds Magistrates Court today (15/7). He was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge.

The case comes as part of an ongoing campaign to target the psychoactive substances - which are manufactured as chemical substitutes for illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy - and to raise awareness of the health risks associated with them. The initiative is being led by the city’s community safety partnership Safer Leeds.

Parwani was arrested in January as part of an operation by West Yorkshire Police drugs specialists and officers from the City Neighbourhood Policing Team which focused on so-called ‘head shops’ which had been given earlier warnings about selling to under-18s.

While officers were observing the stall, Wendy’s Smoking Accessories, in Kirkgate Market, member of staff Kebba Kujabi was seen selling a synthetic form of cannabis to a 16-year-old boy. Kujabi admitted the offence when he appeared at court in April and was given a conditional discharge.

Parwani pleaded not guilty on the basis that he himself did not sell the item to the boy. At his trial, the prosecution successfully argued that as Kujabi’s employer he was legally responsible for his employee’s actions in the course of his employment.

Chief Superintendent Paul Money, Commander of City & Holbeck Division, said: “This is a landmark conviction which represents a real step forward in our ongoing campaign to target the trade in these substances. We remain very concerned that so-called ‘legal highs’ are being sold openly in the city and on the internet and that this makes some people, particularly the young, feel they can take them without risk. Just because they can be bought legally, it doesn’t mean they are safe for people to take.

“Experts tell us that most of these synthetic compounds have no real research or testing behind them and are put together in laboratories abroad with the main aim being to circumvent existing drugs legislation and maximise their profits”.

Police and partner agencies joined forces under the Safer Leeds banner in December last year to launch the campaign to target so-called ‘legal highs’ and raise awareness of the health risks associated with taking these substances.

At the same time high street ‘head shops’ that trade in these products in the city were warned they would find themselves under an increased focus by the authorities to ensure they were complying with the regulations governing the sale of these items.

The campaign, which has been funded by money taken from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act, includes the distribution of advertising and marketing material across the city alongside a programme of awareness-raising visits to schools, colleges and universities.

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